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The ISP industry only has itself to blame for its bad reputation – Guest Editorial

Monday, October 1st, 2018 (12:03 am) - Score 3,700

There is a perception problem in the ISP industry. And it’s certainly not getting any better. If anything, we are falling into the same traps we always have. Lessons we should already have learned are not being heeded.

Arguments over what constitutes “fibre“. Use of terms like “up to” and then use of averages and percentiles. Conflating sync speed with usable bandwidth. Complex pricing and bundles.

It’s become normal and indeed easy now to blame your connectivity provider when something related to the internet doesn’t work. There are many reasons for this, but I think it’s worth exploring that the industry – and by that I mean not just ISPs but regulators (Ofcom, ASA), governments (local and national), journalists, analysts – is itself to blame for this massive perception problem.

NOTE: This article is a special Guest Editorial for ISPreview.co.uk, which has been written by Nic Elliott – Chief Technology Officer of UK ISP Evolving Networks. The views of this author are their own and may not represent those of this website.

As an industry we over-promise, we under-deliver, we spin and we downright lie. No wonder customers blame us for everything.

Never ending roll outs and mis-set expectations

In July, the UK government published its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, which among other things set notional dates for when everyone in the country should have a fibre connection to the internet. Like every date so far announced in the last 20 years, they will be missed.

One of the key aims, supported by the head of Ofcom, our regulator, is the switch off of copper services, in favour of these full fibre connections. My reaction at the time was “I’ll believe that when I see it“.

But if there is a single problem in our industry it’s that we never learn from our mistakes. How are we expected to replace all copper cable with fibre by 2033 (15 years away) when we still haven’t finished what is the infinitely easier task of upgrading every ADSL Max line to ADSL2+?

We live in an era of more different types of connection than ever. ADSL Max, ADSL2+, FTTC, Cable, FTTP, G.fast, 3G, 4G, satellite – the list goes on. Part of that, though is that we never finish a roll out. And this is when customers started to get weary of the promises we made.

Sorry that product isn’t available where you live.”

Yes, you do have the latest broadband technology, but you’ll be lucky to get a tenth of the speeds we advertise at.”

Superfast. Ultrafast. Arguments over whether 20mbps is “super“. Maybe 24? How about 30?

The outright mis-use of terminology

At one end we have EU directives declaring that EFM (a service comprised of bonded copper pairs) is classed as “Next Generation Access” and therefore can be subject to a government subsidised connection voucher, while declaring that a service comprised of bonded FTTC lines (in almost every way better, including not failing if a single pair fails) cannot qualify even when it is demonstrably “superfast“.

At the other end we have consumers being marketed to with hijacked terms like “fibre” or downright lies like “no line rental” or “no contract”, or my personal favourite “unlimited”.

Is it right that we have redefined words in the English language? And not just that but to actually mean the exact opposite? Since when do we apply limits to something that’s unlimited? This is like something straight out of the Ministry of Truth.

How can there genuinely be an argument that “fibre” should include cables that have perhaps hundreds of metres of copper in them? It’s not like genuine, real, actual fibre cable doesn’t exist.

Terms that are unfit and poorly communicated

When it comes to measuring bandwidth (or speed as everyone calls it, mostly incorrectly), “Up to” became the first of what would become a series of vague, misleading over-promises.

Of all the terms used to advertise speed I actually think “Up to” isn’t misleading as a piece of the English language. But it was certainly not communicated well as a technical characteristic by the industry – which is basically the problem. “Up to” means any value from 0 up to that figure. That obviously covers everything. The problem is that it was used to cope with the distance dependency of broadband technology, as well as fluctuations and faults, and importantly the congestion and contention of ISP’s networks.

90th Percentile and now averages are not the solution either.

Leave a Comment
25 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all says:

    Is this an offer to publish peak hour planning rules? Including packet loss, jitter and delay budgets for each package sold?
    Replace ‘superfast’ with throughput?
    Replace ‘broadband services’ with data transport services?
    No point in just complaining, what is the proposal?

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      We know this, what would he propose based on the technology?

    2. Avatar GNewton says:

      @TheFacts: You posted the other day that you have some spare time on hand. Why not use it and come up with some proposals?

    3. Avatar TheFacts says:

      @GN – please refrain from trolling.

  2. Avatar Nobroadband says:

    Well I am stunned!
    Someone talking sense. No spin.
    Well done.
    Why can’t we have more of this.. THE TRUTH

    1. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

      Hear hear!

  3. Avatar Neb says:

    +1 particularly the point paragraph on “Full Fibre”.

    1. Avatar EndlessWaves says:

      I disagree. The full fibre debate is pointless.

      Debating whether you should call it Fibre or FTTC doesn’t matter. One name doesn’t convey any more information than another. You might as well debate whether you should call it chalk or cheese.

      The important thing is consistent names across the industry for different products, so customers can compare offerings from different providers. The full fibre debate only muddies that. Stick to calling it Ultrafast, FTTP or come up with a new and distinctive name while it’s still niche enough that most people haven’t heard of it.

      Trying to claim the fibre name and rename the existing technology known as that to something else benefits nobody.

  4. Avatar Philip Cooper says:

    What a refreshing, honest article.

  5. Avatar GNewton says:

    “And let’s be clear – Ofcom and the ASA have only made this problem worse.”

    I agree, it’s a pity that there are no functioning regulators, we can see these misleading “fibre broadband” adverts everywhere these days.

    “Openreach that is still only invested in and controlled by BT”

    Openreach should have been made a fully independent company, and no taxpayer’s money should have been given to BT.

    1. Avatar Fastman says:

      Gnewton don’t you have fibre broadband provided by a BDUK project ?

    2. Avatar Fastman says:

      Openreach should have been made a fully independent company, and no taxpayer’s money should have been given to BT.

      G Newton I think you mean the money that was provided as part of an full external procurement and involved significant match funding from the successful tenderer which BT was, — but hey lets not allow a few facts to cloud your highly biased view

    3. Avatar GNewton says:

      @Fastman: I am not sure why you keep asking people what ISPs they use, with what technology. If you want to sell ISP or Internet services I suggest not to spam this forum here with this.

      As regards match funding: We all know that the tendering process was initially highly biased towards BT, and most of the BDUK contracts went with that company, with taxpayer monies contributing to these gap-fundings for so-called commercially non-viable areas. You are welcome to dispute the published figures and can let us know if you get any responses from requests under the Freedom of Information act.

  6. Avatar Meadmodj says:

    Other than the base ADSL all products including Full Fibre should state clear contractual FROM TO statements of ISP performance (speed, error, ping etc) for Down and UP (not line speed). Ofcom should also arrange for common testing standards and would be easier to apply if separate Modems/ONT were mandatory. For FTTC this may require a definition of a lower product for slower lines but at least a 38Mbps line will place some obligation on OR to address bad performance of some FTTC lines. In addition a Fibre line defined as 1Gig up line will actually deliver the contracted ISP Performance. Ofcom would need to ensure a service cannot simply be withdrawn or reduced without severe penalty.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      A 1G line will not deliver 1G throughput.

    2. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      Exactly and service dependant on backhaul ratios etc. That’s why the service from and to should be clearly stated regardless of underlying technology.

    3. Avatar Dominic Jones says:

      @TheFacts Surely the point of 1Gig service is that you no longer need to worry about how fast you can go, but ha that any devices you connect can do what they need to do without any service degradation (based on the router, home layout etc) After all you don’t worry about how much gas/water/electric you are getting, just that it works?

      I cannot see any reason why a consumer user would need to utilise a full 960m (taking into account overheads etc) all the time? most devices would only need maybe 20Mb/s for UHDTV and unless you happen to have a HMO with hundreds of people stashed in the room most people would struggle to fully max out an FTTP line

  7. Avatar Brian says:

    It’s not just ISPs, it is also the public funded BDUK bodies and politicians giving soundbites that they think will make them look good.

    I think a step change would be if the whole industry started treating the public like adults, able to comprehend information, not been kept in the dark, or given the wrong information to shut you up for a while.

  8. Avatar Gavin says:

    As well there ever increasing contract length. Then the heafty cancellation charge, if you end the contract early.

    As a result, being a renter, I got mobile broadband. As if I have to move, due to a gready land lord putting up the rent, I canove freely.

  9. Avatar Mr Neutron says:

    And let’s not forget in all the fibre vs “copper pairs” debate that some copper, erm, isn’t! Back in the Post Office/BT days when copper pairs became expensive, the way forward was seen as aluminium pairs – just about OK for telephone, but its higher resistance contributes to performance loss for data transmission.

    I wonder how much aluminium line plant is still in use by BT?

    1. Avatar Captain.Cretin says:

      The mealy mouthed answer from BT is that they have never installed alu cable.

      ignoring all the contractors they encouraged to use it in the 80’s and early 90’s.

      There are still whole estates of it around here.

    2. Avatar Meadmodj says:

      I can’t believe BT is denying it. It was used early 70s until early 80s and depending on their vintage whole towns. We had jelly filled crimps especially as the aluminium was too brittle to bend, corroded easily and the twist in the pairs was bad. A lot has been recovered and replaced over the years but as you say certain areas are affected and basically it can crop up anywhere in the distribution side. If OR had good records these should be near the top of the list for FTTP.
      Note also at this time new exchanges were not built so often lines for telephones got longer. All these conspire for low DSL performance. Currently there is no automatic incentive for OR to review badly performing lines with ISPs using the Upto excuse.

    3. Avatar Neb says:

      I know from BTOR engineers locally that Alu cables exist in my town.

    4. Avatar Joe says:

      Its hard to quantify but fwiw the amount of Alu has dropped a lot over time as cable is replaced for faults/damage etc. But if you have it they won’t change it just because your speed suffers.

    5. Avatar Mark says:

      We have aluminium here, our line is so bad for broadband I call it “badband”

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